Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final.
–Rainer Maria Rilke
I have this fragment of Rilke’s poem on the wall in my office, as a reminder and support to my clients. Recently, I’ve been needing a fair amount of reminding myself. This week, I’ve been hit a few times by intense waves of sadness and grief. There’s some reason for this in my personal life; my cat Jules died recently, and New Year’s Eve will be the 30th anniversary of my mother’s death. And Christmas was her birthday. So it’s a mixed up season for me. But that’s been true for years and these waves are different, and feel out of proportion to the actual circumstances, which I find is often a clue that there’s something else involved.
Certainly, with grief, one loss can activate feelings around other losses, so Jules’ death could be catalyzing some of this. Nonetheless, it was pretty surprising the other morning to be out running on the mesa, taking in the beauty of the sunrise, the snowy mountains glowing pink with the dawn, and then almost collapsing with sobs. Just keep going was about all there was to do, as stopping for long in the cold wasn’t going to help. So I kept going, and then I swam and I wrote and I went to work, and things seemed “normal” again for a while.
This morning, additional waves arrived, followed eventually by an aha. I realized that these recent big waves of sadness have hit after I’ve been in the car. I usually put on NPR when driving, updating myself on the news. I usually turn it off pretty quickly as well, as my tolerance is limited. What hit me this time is that I am deeply saddened by this tax bill nonsense in congress. Non-sense seems the appropriate word or phrase here, given the difference between what is said about the bill and what actual analysis reveals. Taxes may decrease for some, but deficits will grow, services of all sorts will be reduced and in the end, I expect very little good to come of this.
My deep reactivity arises from what these political shenanigans feel like. These actions feel greedy and mean-spirited, with little regard for the quality of life for the commonweal, the vast majority of humans in our country, or the land and planet upon which we all live. To me, it feels terribly wrong, the very opposite of health, and bears no resemblance to what I consider public service.
Given my line of work, first as a family physician and now as a somatic psychotherapist primarily working with trauma, I’ve done a lot of thinking about adversity in life. I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of stuff does not make sense on this, the incarnated side of the veil, but that there is some way that it does make sense from the other side, the spiritual side, whatever that may be. Somehow, we humans are here on earth working out stuff, learning, growing, problem-solving, addressing issues that we only partially understand.
Like any learning process, an individual may try out many ways of doing something prior to actually doing what it is they wish to do. Its one thing to watch a toddler fall and stumble as they learn to run and walk, its quite another to watch someone make choices that will lead to what feels like a terrible outcome. With a toddler, I can take away the fork before they stick it in the electrical outlet. I can’t stop an alcoholic from drinking, that’s their journey. That said, its very difficult for me to watch what seems to me to be the power and greed addicted behaviors of our current government at work. This may be what we as a society need to do in order to work out a problem or increase our collective understanding of how to be in the world. But oh my, it grieves me sorely to witness this behavior.
While I do not subscribe to a particular religious framework for all of this, I do have my beliefs and guiding principles. Kindness, compassion, generosity, and empathy lead my list. Sometimes these can all go under the heading of love, not the soft, mushy stuff of infatuation and dime store valentines, but the fierce, clear-seeing, speaking truth to power kind of love. Now my challenge is to be fierce in my understanding, compassionate to myself and all others, including those whose behaviors I have such difficulty with, and somehow just keep going, bringing my best self to the fore as much as I can.
I am so sad that we are going to such lengths to learn these lessons the hard way. I don’t want to be an adult right now. May I be excused? Once again, I remind myself. Just keep going, no feeling is final.
I wrote this last night and scheduled it to post early this morning. And then, as one would do with any tired and cranky child, I put myself to bed early. After a good-enough sleep, I was enjoying my morning coffee and checking in online. I was greeted with some loves from some of my Facebook friends who had read this, and a pair of very thoughtful responses from WordPress readers. Community makes a difference. This morning, I’m okay with being an adult.
Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year here in the northern hemisphere. The major celebrations of this time of year, whether the pagan solstice, Christmas or Hanukkah, are all basically about the miracle of finding light in the darkness. My miracles today: I have more hope today than yesterday, I have community, I have a warm home and enough to eat, so welcome on this cold and snowy day.
Albert Einstein, the great physicist and thinker, famously said “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is a miracle.” I will take the latter.
8 thoughts on “Let Everything Happen to You”
I share your sorrow at the state of our world and the choices that those in power make. I believe that if each one of us lived by your guiding principles the world would be an entirely different place. It may be a struggle right now for you, but you are right “no feeling is final” and there is goodness in this world,
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Thanks for reading and commenting. The challenge is holding onto the light in this time of darkness. Your support and reminder is welcome!
I agree completely ❤
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very well-written and thoughtful essay. I am sorry about Jules. Losing a pet is losing family so it’s hard. I do understand why the arrogant selfishness of the current set of politicians is additionally depressing. The tax laws are worrisome but hopefully they will be flipped in a few years if we are lucky and people realize we need a different crew which doesn’t focus on benefiting a very small very wealthy minority. As the economy tanks, this is likely to happen like Clinton (focus on the middle class/economy) followed Bush (hanging onto the trickle-down mantra). What worries me more is the new lifetime appointments of ultraconservative judges on the federal circuits. Trump has pushed through a much higher number than the presidents before him. I am expecting rights to be overturned in the coming years and it will be difficult to undo the harm of those appointments. People forget our rights have evolved over time as courts became liberalized and they can be eroded or even taken away. But we are a country whose psychology swings drastically like the 1950s morphed into the 1960s. Hopefully the same swing will happen again soon because back then many ultraconservative judges changed with the times and created the civil rights laws which meant the lifetime appointments backfired as the judges did not have to worry about being fired when they began expanding civil rights. I remain hopeful.
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Well put. Yes, I am very aware of the courts issue (Neil Gorsuch lived a few miles from me prior to his appointment), and that’s something that takes longer to turn back over. That said, there are glimmers of hope in that many people are much more aware and unwilling to “go quietly”. Thanks for reading and commenting!
Your post is well thought out and stated. It’s the third post I’ve read today about inexplicable sadness/depression and I suspect that politics/news plays a larger subconscious role than we realize. Those of us not well off, jobless have even more to be depressed about but I try to keep ‘believing’ that it will all work out even as impotent as that sounds in my ears. What else can we do? Vote? It’s almost insanely amusing.
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Thank you Steph for articulating exactly how I feel too, even though our Australian politics aren’t quite as bad as yours for the moment 🙏🏼
I’m so tired of apologizing to my teenage son & his friends for the state of the world we are handing them… he can’t believe the selfish, greedy choices which keep getting made, & I despise my cynicism that they will in fact just keep getting made… Feeling grateful for my incredibly fortunate life does not always make the world seem better I’m afraid.
But I’m glad you found solace in your friends and this community 😊🙏🏼
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Yes, the current U.S. government is insane in its indifference to the common man and to all of nature.
May i suggest reading Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. It is, for the most part, very uplifting and it was written by a man who truly went through spiritual enlightenment.
Excerpt from Walt:
I know I have the best of time and space, and was never measured and never
will be measured.
I tramp a perpetual journey, (come listen all!)
My signs are a rain-proof coat, good shoes, and a staff cut from the woods,
No friend of mine takes his ease in my chair,
I have no chair, no church, no philosophy,
I lead no man to a dinner-table, library, or exchange,
But each man and each woman of you I lead upon a knoll,
My left hand hooks you round the waist,
My right hand points to landscapes of continents and the public road.
Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.
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